Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jordan’

The Chicago Tribune had a drawing of LeBron James dressed up as Santa Claus with the headline “Christmas in July” on the front page of today’s sports section, but since we’ll have 8 full days of speculation before any NBA free agent can officially sign with a team, it’s a little more appropriate to call this once in a lifetime holiday “LeBronukkah: Where Joe Johnson Gets $120 Million Because Teams Get Trigger-Happy Happens”.

As far as sports blog topics go, speculation about where LeBron and other of the top NBA free agents end up is right up there with Big Ten expansion.  My personal connection to all of this is that Henry Thomas, my old sports law professor, is representing both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the NBA free agent sweepstakes.  Thus, he’ll be receiving what will likely be the largest sports agent haul in history over the next few days.  Thomas is a classy guy that built up a Chicago-based agency over many years and put himself in a position to join the Hollywood sports and entertainment super-agency CAA last year while steering clear of all of the Jerry Maguire stereotypes, so kudos to him.  I hope that he remembers that he gave me an A on my paper analyzing the line of cases pitting the Bulls and WGN against the NBA regarding national TV rights and cable superstations and maybe send me a little of that 4% commission that he’s going to bank.

As many of you know (and probably to the chagrin of many of the Ohio State readers out there that double as Cavs supporters), I’m a massive Bulls fan that will be partying for the next 10 years if LeBron ends up in Chicago.  Personally, I believe that he’s going to choose the best long-term basketball situation when push comes to shove, which points to the Bulls (who happen to also offer a massive media market), although no one (including myself) can discount the power of him wanting to stay close to home.  On that front, I’m just another Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer with an opinion.

However, I can’t accept the main argument that I continuously hear being brought up as the main reason why LeBron wouldn’t go to the Bulls: Michael Jordan’s “shadow”.  Supposedly, LeBron wouldn’t want to deal with the legacy of MJ and wants to make his own mark somewhere else.  Well, ESPN’s Chad Ford presented one of the more intriguing (or at least different) stories from this free agent period on a Bill Simmons podcast (near the 39 minute mark) which Deadspin also picked up on:

Michael Jordan, after games in Chicago, would go down to Gibsons Steakhouse on Rush Street, and he had a particular table that he would sit [at] in the back, and he would smoke cigars, and he would eat, and he had his own waiter and everything else. … When LeBron had heard that story — when he’s in Chicago, he goes to Gibsons, sits at the same table, has the same waiter. … When I was [at] the draft camp in Chicago, I went to Gibsons, and I heard this story from I think a pretty good source. So I started asking around: “Who was Michael Jordan’s waiter?” And I found him, and I came to ask him, “Whaddya think?” Because this guy was apparently a confidant to Jordan. Jordan knew him well. … I said: “Whaddya think about LeBron. Is he coming to Chicago?” He said, “He’s coming to Chicago. He already told me to reserve his table.” So a waiter is going to scoop the story.

Now, Ford told this story in a light-hearted manner and doesn’t actually believe that this is concrete evidence of where LeBron is ultimately going to end up.  However, it does provide a lot of insight into the mentality of the King.  First, he has some great taste: Gibsons is a fantastic steakhouse and if you ever go there, be sure to get the twice baked potato as a side.  Trust me on that one.  Second, and more importantly, this shows that LeBron worrying about MJ’s supposed shadow is not only ridiculous, but James actually WANTS that shadow to the point where he copies the postgame routine of his childhood idol in a way that makes Kobe Bryant look like a wannabe Jordan stalker.

Think of it this way: I was fortunate enough to have spent virtually my entire childhood growing up in the Chicago area during the Michael Jordan era.  MJ’s rookie season was when I was in first grade and his shot over Byron Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals was right after my sophomore year of college.  Basketball was the sport that I loved to play the most by far and I dreamed of BEING Michael Jordan.  Never mind that I eventually topped out as a 5′ 11″ half-Polish/half-Chinese guy whose best skill was a streaky long-range jumpshot.  I, along with millions of other kids in Chicago and across the world, wanted to be all things MJ: the basketball domination, championships, Nike shoe line, commercials, house, cars, clothes and movies with Bugs Bunny and Newman.  In fact, this dream of an entire lifestyle was encapsulated in the classic Gatorade commercial with the song, “Be Like Mike”.

LeBron James was just like me and all of those millions of kids that grew up in the ’80s and ’90s.  His favorite team growing up was the Bulls as opposed to the Craig Ehlo/Mark Price Cavs.  He wore #23 and decided to switch to #6 this upcoming year as an honor to MJ (saying that no one else should wear that number).  He took less money to sign with Nike compared to what Reebok offered.  If there’s one thing that we know about LeBron, it’s that he has always idolized Michael Jordan.

However, unlike me and all of those millions of other kids, LeBron is the one person of that entire generation that can actually achieve his childhood dream to BE LIKE MIKE.  He is the only one in the world that saw that Gatorade commercial as a youngster that is now in a position to live it out in real life.  The Gibsons story is an additional tidbit showing that LeBron still wants to emulate MJ in every way possible.  As a result, I don’t believe that the fact that Michael Jordan played for the Bulls is a bad thing in terms of luring LeBron at all.  In fact, it will likely be one of the best selling points for GarPaxDorfTibs on their Saturday recruiting visit with LeBron and his “team”.

Continuing on a tradition of excellence is something that top athletes embrace.  It’s why Shaq decided to sign with the Lakers in 1996, where he didn’t seem to worry about the multiple “shadows” of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (and those are just the centers that played for that franchise, much less guys like Magic Johnson and Jerry West).  It’s also why top high school players would rather sit on the bench at North Carolina for a couple of years instead of starting right away at East Carolina.

LeBron is no different.  He has an understanding of history and knows that less than a handful of marquee franchises can add to his “brand” just because of who they are: the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls and Knicks.  Other teams might not detract from it (well, except for the Clippers), but they’re not going to provide any multiplier effect, either.  At the same time, LeBron is going to be compared to MJ no matter where he goes, so the only possible way to meet or exceed those monumental expectations is to go to the best basketball situation possible.  (Look at this synopsis of stories about Kobe after the Lakers won the championship this year and note who he’s compared to in every single one despite playing far from Chicago.)  The fact that such situation may be with Jordan’s old team which is still well-known internationally because of the ’90s dynasty is actually a bonus.

There are plenty of reasons why LeBron won’t end up with the Bulls, including but not limited to the fact that the Cavs are closest to home in Akron.  However, let’s immediately scorch the suggestion that he would actually want to avoid the shadow of the player that he has emulated his entire life around (from basketball to business) up to this point.  LeBron’s singular dream has been to “Be Like Mike”, so he’d be the first person to embrace the shadow of Michael Jordan and merge it into his own.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)

(Image from LayoutLocator)


Scottie Pippen Hue Hollins Hubert Davis Foul

With all of the issues with NBA officiating these days, J.A. Adande and just had to rip off a longtime scab with this 15th anniversary retrospective of the worst officiating call I have ever witnessed in any sport (notwithstanding the claims of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville) and it happened to come against one of my teams: the phantom foul call by Hue Hollins on Scottie Pippen, who as you can see from the picture above was about 80 feet away on the other side of the court from Hubert Davis.   I will go to my grave believing that the 1994 Bulls without Michael Jordan would have at least made it to the NBA Finals if not for that inexcusable call.  The fact that this loss was to the archrival Knicks made it all the more infuriating.  Psychologists believe that our brains essentially lock in the traumatic moments in our lives where we can recall every single vivid detail around them many years later, which would explain why I start immediately ranting about how far away Pippen was from Davis on that play every time that this story gets brought up (such as today).  Just don’t get me started on the 2000 Illinois-Michigan game.

(Image from

Michael Jordan Larry Bird McDonalds

It’s been a very long time since a Land-o-Links post, so here you go:

1.  What If I Don’t Want a Big Mac? (Blog-a-Bull) – An entertaining comparison of all of the current Bulls with various McDonald’s menu items.  Truer words have never been spoken about the McRib.  On a related note, there have been some suggestions out there that the Bulls ought to go after Carlos Boozer.  Now, is Boozer a better low post player than anyone else in Chicago at this time?  Yes.  However, is it worth crushing the Bulls’ salary cap space for Boozer and give up the chance to go after either Amare Stoudemire or Chris Bosh? NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOOOOO!!!  (If you ask politely, I’ll tell you how I really feel.)

2.  It’s Not You, It’s Jazz and the NBA ( – Paul Shirley examines why some of his friends haven’t been paying attention to the NBA (as judged by a survey of his poker buddies where only 3 of 8 knew all of the teams that had made the playoffs) by presenting an interesting corrollary between pro basketball and jazz, where the improvisation involved in both the game and style of music, making them relatively abstract, might make it difficult to be appreciated by those that haven’t played either.  As someone that did spend most of the first part of my life playing both organized basketball and trombone in jazz bands, I completely understand where he’s coming from, where both forms deal with a base structure but require a lot of improv within them.  There are two problems that I have with Shirley’s argument, though.  First, Shirley implies that part of the issue is that people need to have played basketball and jazz to be fully appreciative of each, but the thing is that a whole lot more people have played basketball in America compared to football and baseball.  Case in point, when was the last time that you’ve seen a pick-up baseball game in the park?  That never happens, yet you’ll find basketball hoops on urban playgrounds, suburban driveways, and rural farmhouses – if anything, it’s the most widely played sport across socioeconomic lines by a significant margin.  Second, I think that the fact that Shirley lives in Kansas City, which doesn’t have an NBA team, has much to do with his friends’ supposed ignorance of the NBA.  If you went to Portland or Salt Lake City, the average sports fan in those places would likely be more hardpressed to name the teams that make the baseball playoffs in any given year simply because they aren’t following baseball all season without having a hometown team to follow.  Frankly, the NFL is probably the only sport where you can use a standard where you can assume that the average sports fan knows where every team might be in the standings.

If I were to apply the “abstract jazz” issue to any sport, it would definitely be hockey.  In basketball, even if a casual sports fan or someone that never watches sports at all doesn’t understand how to run a pick-and-roll or properly box out an opposing player, that person can ultimately watch LeBron James and realize that he’s able to get the ball into a basket at a higher level than the other players on the court.  However, if you watch a hockey game that involves Sidney Crosby, he will make amazing moves that no one else in the world can do yet he’ll fail to score on such moves 9 out of 10 times.  So, it’s very difficult for someone that hasn’t played hockey (please note that everything that I know about hockey moves and formations is based on the 3000 hours that I spent playing EA Sports NHL ’98 back in college) to understand why a certain move or play is impressive or not – the relative lack of scoring in hockey almost de facto makes it abstract.

3. NHL’s Story a Regional One (Sports Media Watch) – Digging a little deeper into hockey, Sports Media Watch notes what most people know already, which is that the NHL has shown an ability to draw fans within its local markets but continues to struggle on the national level.  What drives me insane about Gary Bettman and the NHL’s leadership is that they know that they face a stacked deck compared to the other sports leagues yet make decisions that compound the league’s problems.  Case in point was last Thursday night, where the NHL had two game 7s (Detroit-Anaheim and Boston-Carolina), with each of them featuring a large market Original Six team.  This should have been one of those magical nights of hockey (particularly when the Bruins-Hurricanes game went into overtime) that would have drawn in a plethora of casual fans.  However, in the infinite wisdom of the NHL, the nation would only see the Red Wings-Ducks game in its entirety on Versus and if you wanted to see all of the Bruins-Hurricanes game, you had to shell out $79 for a pay-per-view feed.  If the part of the purpose of the NHL moving to Versus was that the network had a commitment to show more hockey, WTF is the league doing scheduling two game 7s at the same time?!  Meanwhile, the NBA had two game 6s going on that same evening and those games had staggered start times so that they could be a featured doubleheader on ESPN.  Say what you will about David Stern and the NBA, but that entity knows what it’s supposed to be doing on the television front in order to maximize its audience better than anyone else in sports.  It would be great if the NHL could get someone that would take into account the lessons of the NBA… wait a second… Bettman was David Stern’s right-hand man for over a decade prior to being named NHL commissioner?  Jeez – it’s not a good sign if a league would consider Bug Selig to be an upgrade.

4.  Lost, “The Incident”: The Men Behind the Curtain (What’s Alan Watching) – I’ll be putting up a Lost season finale post eventually (since the premiere of its final season won’t be coming until January 2010, meaning there’s time to mull everything over and with all the various storylines, we may need every moment to process it all), but in the meantime, please go over to Alan Sepinwell’s Lost analysis.  It’s a shame that I only stumbled onto Sepinwall’s blog this year since it’s now the first place that I turn to after each Lost episode – he puts up extremely well-written posts even with a short time constraint while the numerous commenters are generally pretty good (which is tough to find with respect to Lost blogs, where one segment of people get way too technical on one end and the other group on the opposite end consists of complete dolts).

And finally…

5.  Annals of Innovation: How David Beats Goliath (The New Yorker) –  While Paul Shirley compares basketball to jazz, Malcolm Gladwell draws a line between how lesser talented basketball teams’ use of the press provides insight into how underdogs are able to win wars.  Fascinating reading as always from Gladwell, who might be unparalleled at this time in terms of non-fiction writing, although I’ll quibble at a technical level with the long-term effectiveness of the press through an entire 48 minute game.  I understand the argument that it’s a disruptive tool that can shake the opposing team.  However, the press is by far the most tiring type of play that you can employ in the game, meaning that a team would need incredibly in-shape athletes to execute it over an entire contest.  Of course, if you had such in-shape athletes, that would mean that you’re a “Goliath” instead of a “David”, which eliminates the efficacy of using that strategy in the first place.  At the same time, once you get to the higher levels of organized basketball, any decent coach can draw up a press break that can often result in a wide-open layup on the other end of the court (since the press, which uses double-teams, will always end up leaving at least one player open).  Still, Gladwell sets forth a great game plan for how an underdog in any walk of life can beat the favorite: disrupt the opponent and take it out of its comfort zone.  The reason why not everyone does this?  Well, that disruption almost always takes a whole lot more hard work than just going through “conventional warfare”.  So, it really does come down to effort.

On tonight’s agenda: Game 2 of Hawks-Wings, Game 1 of Lakers-Nuggets, and, one of my favorite not-on-the-field sports events of the year, the NBA Draft Lottery.  Frank the Tank’s couch is definitely where amazing happens.

(Image from Cavalcade of Awesome)


It happens in every single great basketball matchup – one team’s fan base ordains one player on the opposing team as the villain.  For Boston Celtics fans, they immediately latched onto the haterade for Joakim Noah at the beginning of what has turned out to be an epic series with the Bulls.  It took a few games for Bulls fans to coalesce around a single Celtics villain, though.  Last week, my money would have been on Eddie House, who just grates on me on a personal level if only because he kicks out his legs like a buffoon when he takes a jumpshot.  However, the events that transpired in games 5 and 6 of this first round series has catapulted Rajon Rondo into an illustrious club of Villains of the Bulls, which includes John Starks, Reggie Miller, James Posey, and, of course, my least favorite athlete of all-time by a landslide margin, Bill Laimbeer.  As I mentioned in my post the other day, my respect for Rondo had grown exponentially over the first four games of the series as he led a Celtics team depleted by injuries with the most consistent play of any player on either team.  In game 5, though, Rondo was involved in two plays that caused Bulls players to get stitched up, including the controversial hard foul at the end of the game on Brad Miller that many people thought was a flagrant foul.  (It wasn’t just Bulls fans – even Charles Barkley, who was the master of hard fouls, immediately thought that it was a flagrant.)  Personally, I thought that it was a flagrant foul as it’s defined by the NBA rule book, but there were a whole lot more reasons as to why the Bulls lost that game (i.e. failure to close out the game in regulation with an 11-point lead late in the 4th quarter, letting Paul Pierce prance to the exact same spot on the left side of the free throw line where he apparently can swish jumpshots blindfolded, etc.) and I didn’t think that Rondo had any malicious intent.  So, while most Bulls fans seemed comfortable in making Rondo as Chicago’s new Public Enemy Number One after game 5 (and the United Center crowd admirably let him know it by booing him mercilessly every time that he touched the ball in game 6), I still reserved some judgment on the young Boston point guard since I have been so impressed with his overall leadership skills in the series and he appeared to be the quiet and humble type like his opposing counterpart of Derrick Rose.

However, when Rondo tossed Kirk Hinrich into the scorer’s table in game 6, I finally came to the conclusion with the rest of Bulls fans that he’s a straight-out thug.  He might be a thug with actual basketball skills like Reggie Miller (and unlike Bill Laimbeer), but he’s still a thug.  It was amazing to me that Rondo would do such an idiotic move when ESPN and every sports media outlet in the country had already put him under such intense scrutiny.  (It was almost equally amazing by how quick Captain Kirk was ready to throw down.)  Congratulations, Rajon Rondo – you’ve guaranteed yourself a lifetime of catcalls every time that you step in the City of Chicago.

As for the series overall, it’s a bit premature to put this in the “greatest series of all-time” category in the annals of NBA history.  In just Bulls history alone, is this really a better series than the Bulls-Knicks and Bulls-Pistons battles of the early-90s, or the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers that also went to 7 games?  Those were games featuring numerous Hall of Famers on the floor such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Isiah Thomas, and Reggie Miller all at full strength.  The Celtics’ battles with the Lakers and Pistons in the late-80’s were also all classics with guys like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, and Larry Bird on the floor in crunch time.  So, I’m not going to be so quick to grant this “greatest ever” status since arguably the best player on either team, Kevin Garnett, has been reduced to scowling like Tony Montana on the bench.  However, for pure entertainment value, this series is definitely off the charts.  I’d compare this to watching five buzzer beater first round NCAA Tournament games(with one blowout mixed in) all in a row – the quality of basketball might not be at a peak level compared to what we might see in, say, a potential Cavs-Lakers NBA Finals, but the back-and-forth nature of the games keeps you fixated at the edge of your seat.  So, if you’re a casual sports fan that wants to see intense games that go down to the wire, this series has been a boon.  At this point, I have no clue what’s going to happen in game 7.  I seriously didn’t believe that there could possibly be another overtime game after game 5, yet game 6 ended up giving basketball fans three overtime periods. (Joakim Noah’s steal and dunk (in the process posterizing and fouling out Paul Pierce) and Derrick Rose’s block on Rondo in the third overtime of game 6 are easily the most memorable Bulls moments in the post-MJ era.)  Chances are that game 7 is going to be just entertaining – I can’t imagine it being any other way after how everything has gone up to this point.  (One bit of advice to Vinny Del Negro: when the Bulls have the last possession in regulation or overtime to win or tie the game, GET THE BALL IN DERRICK ROSE’S HANDS FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY!!!  That is all.)  Enjoy the weekend and GO BULLS!!!

(Image from Chicago Tribune)


Last night, when the Bulls got locked into the seventh-seed position in the Eastern Conference for a first round matchup with the defending champion second-seed Celtics, I was pretty sure that we would have been witnessing a Boston sweep. Of course, this was assuming that Kevin Garnett (even a 50% healthy one) would be on the floor. With today’s announcement that KG will likely be sitting out of the entire playoffs, though, the Bulls’ loss to Toronto on Wednesday night (which prevented them from moving up to the sixth-seed) now looks fortuitous since they get a banged-up Boston team having to play the third-seed Magic and a healthy Dwight Howard. Granted, I still think that the Celtics have a substantial upper-hand since Paul Pierce will still be the best player on the floor and Ray Allen is what Ben Gordon could be if you added a heavy dose of consistency, but this has at least turned a series that was a virtually guaranteed sweep 24 hours ago into a scrum that could reasonably go up to 6 or 7 games.

The Bulls’ best chance to be competitive is to use their relative athleticism to push the tempo against a half-court-oriented Celtics offense and downgraded KG-less defense. This would be similar to the method employed by Scott Skiles’ Bulls team that swept the Heat (who happened to be that season’s defending champs) in the 2007 playoffs, albeit Vinny Del Negro’s group has better offensive weapons counterbalanced by a significantly worse defensive unit. After having a little bit of a lull in January and February, Derrick Rose has been rejuvenated in March and April (to the point where the point guard winning the Rookie of the Year is the biggest lock out of any of this year’s NBA individual awards) and John Paxson’s trade for John Salmons and Brad Miller has been a relative success. I’ll admit to having known virtually nothing about Salmons when he got sent over by the Kings (and I watch a lot of basketball), but his cockeyed jump-shot has grown on me to the point where his apparent recent injury issue has me much concerned than the fact that Luol Deng has been shut down. Salmons is one of a rare breed in the NBA: he’s a solid contributor and scorer that’s getting paid commensurate with the value he provides to the team. This means that he’ll be getting a Deng-like overpayment by the Bulls or some other team after next season (see also Kirk Hinrich and Ben Wallace). Regardless, I can’t believe that I’m writing that the health of some guy that I thought was the name of an entrée at Red Lobster a couple of months ago will end up swinging a game or two for the Bulls one way or the other against the defending champs, but it sure looks that way.

I still say that the Celtics will take the Bulls in 6 games (as opposed to 4 if Garnett were playing), although I also envision Derrick Rose having a couple of games that will serve the general public notice of his phenomenal skills (to the extent that it doesn’t know already) at the most difficult position to play in as a rookie in sports outside of quarterback. While D-Rose won’t put on a performance on par with Michael Jordan dropping 63 points in the old Boston Garden in the 1986 playoffs (against a Celtics team that would go on to win the NBA title that year), which led Larry Bird to famously proclaim that MJ was “God disguised as a basketball player” (and if Basketball Jesus makes a statement of that nature, you know it to be true), I think that it’s great that young point guard is going to get some playoff experience right away against a veteran club. From the moment that the Bulls won the NBA lottery last year, the focus of the organization has been to build around Rose to create a legitimate championship contender two or three years down the road. Outside of having Vinny Del Negro as coach (unfortunately, it’s 99% likely that we’re stuck with him for at least another season – I’m sure I’ll be posting a long overdue rant on this subject sooner rather than later), the Bulls are at least on the ascent where they should be set up nicely when the all-important 2010 free agent class hits the open market. Until then, I’ll enjoy some playoff basketball back in Chicago after a one-year hiatus.

(Image from Sports Illustrated)


There are essentially three types of people that watch the NCAA Tournament. The first set of people consists of the ones that don’t pay attention to college basketball the entire season but then rabidly fill out brackets at work and get engrossed by the tournament. Just like how most Americans don’t watch an iota of swimming or track and field except for two weeks every four years during the Olympics, these people don’t know the existence of college basketball other than for three weeks in March every year. There’s certainly nothing wrong with these short-term basketball watchers (as many of them are some of my best friends and I don’t mind dishing out well-intentioned gambling advice on Selection Sunday that invariably turns out to be wrong), but they are able to approach the NCAA Tournament purely as an entertaining reality television event in the same manner as American Idol and thus aren’t invested in its outcome in an emotional sense (it might be a different story financially).

Then, there’s the second set of people that are fans and alums of schools where simply making the NCAA Tournament is the end goal. These could be teams from tiny conferences whose only time in the national limelight every year is to get smashed by a #1 seed in the first round (for example, despite my continuing interest in studying the locations and conferences of every possible college out there, I have to admit that this year was the first time in my life that I had ever heard of play-in game winner Morehead State) or schools from large conferences that are largely devoid of any basketball success (I’m looking at you, Northwestern). While these fans have some more emotional investment in the tournament than the first set described above, they also can walk away from their respective teams’ losses with the comfort of knowing that they were playing the role of the proverbial Cinderella and thus look back at the tourney experience itself with some fond memories.

Finally, there’s the third set of fans and alums that are from schools where the NCAA Tournament is an expectation as opposed to an aspiration and satisfaction doesn’t come unless there’s at least a Final Four appearance and ultimately a national championship banner. While these people may participate in brackets and other gambling pools as much or more than anyone else (I’m looking at myself in the mirror), there’s also a sense of dejection and emptiness when your team loses that is a bit harsher than any other sport because everyone else around you that’s emotionally detached from the situation is still partying up and enjoying the tourney (especially in the first two rounds when games are constantly going on). The best comparable situation is the feeling of watching your favorite football team play the Super Bowl (the main sports event other than the NCAA Tournament that draws in a disproportionate number of non-sports fans) and they are getting killed on the field (or, in my case, Rex Grossman is chucking deep balls into triple coverage) – 99% of America is having a great time downing beer, nachos, and pizza at parties, while you’re part of that 1% that is swearing unmercifully at the television screen and questioning why you ever started watching sports. That’s what it feels like if you’re a fan of a basketball program that’s expected to actually advance in the NCAA Tournament and they end up losing, with the crucial difference being that your favorite NFL team probably doesn’t make the Super Bowl very often (if ever), so that lonely feeling is rarely or never experienced (except for those poor Buffalo Bills fans of the 1990s – how cruel is it for those people to now have the NFL openly nudge that franchise toward Toronto), while a fan of a top tier basketball school has to deal with this type of loss in the midst of a national party nearly every single year.

You have probably figured out that I’m in the third set of NCAA Tournament watchers. When Illinois lost in the 2005 National Championship Game to North Carolina, I couldn’t even watch that season’s “One Shining Moment” montage for several months (and I’m telling you in all seriousness that I hadn’t missed a “One Shining Moment” film since I was cognizant of the existence of the NCAA Tournament as a young child – this was like me ignoring Christmas for a year or not bringing up the John Tesh’s Roundball Rock and the 1990s NBA on NBC intros at every available opportunity on this blog). The pain from that day was so horrid for Illini fans that it was even encapsulated in a Nike Jumpman commercial that’s been running during this year’s tournament.

So, why would anyone be willing to deal with the type of constant dejection that I just described? The reason is that this emotional investment has a pay-off unlike any other in sports when it all goes right. When your team is on the winning end of one of those crazy games or buzzer-beaters and you see your school’s jersey in the “One Shining Moment” montage, it’s a direct connection that doesn’t quite exist to the same extent in other realms. Any person can wake up and decide to cheer for the Bears, Packers, White Sox, or Cubs, but there are only a finite number of people in the world that attended the University of Illinois, so there’s a certain sense of ownership when the Illini come through. I’ve been blessed enough to witness all three of my favorite pro sports teams – the Bears, Bulls, and White Sox – win world championships in my lifetime in dramatic fashion, but there’s only one sporting event that is on both of the DVRs in my house so that I can watch it at any moment on any TV: the 2005 NCAA Tournament Chicago Regional Final. The 15-point comeback by Illinois in the last 4 minutes of that game against Arizona was the most exhilarating experience that I’ve ever had (and probably ever will have) as a sports fan (even more than Michael Jordan’s brilliance in the last 41 seconds of the 1998 NBA Finals, which is a reel that I’ll show my future children over-and-over again as to how a perfect basketball player can take over a game by using explosiveness to drive to the rim to make an easy lay-up, come back down the floor and use defensive intelligence and anticipation to straight-out strip the ball from arguably the greatest power forward in the history of the game, and then dribble right back the other way and nail the iconic jumper in textbook form from the top of the key to win the NBA title – I have broken down those final 41 seconds more than Oliver Stone has watched the Zapruder film, yet it’s still just behind the 2005 Illini comeback as my favorite sports moment) where I honestly didn’t sleep that evening from shaking so much and how excited I was that we had made the Final Four in a way that it would be shown on ESPN Classic in perpetuity.

This year’s Illini squad obviously didn’t have anywhere close to the expectations as the 2005 team that made it to the national title game. In fact, Seth Davis pronounced Western Kentucky as the winner of the first round matchup between them and Illinois before the South Region bracket was even fully announced on Selection Sunday. It didn’t surprise me that Davis would engage in his typical Duke-baggery prognostications, but it REALLY irritated me when essentially every pundit in the country (other than Erin Andrews, who I will say is the only pundit that matters) also picked WKU and its nightmare fuel of a mascot. While it was certainly understandable that this would be a somewhat trendy 12-over-5 upset pick, I felt as if though Illinois was getting slammed for its high profile 33-point clunker against Penn State in February, yet no one was giving the Illini credit for hammering fashionable pick (and eventual Elite Eight participant) Missouri by 26 points (and the game wasn’t even that close – it would have been a 40-point spread if Bruce Weber hadn’t called off the dogs) on a neutral floor in the Braggin’ Rights Game, soundly beating another fashionable pick (and eventual Sweet Sixteen participant) in Purdue both at home and on the road, and finishing in second place in a resurgent (if not quite great) Big Ten. Bruce Weber picked up on this national media swarm, as well, and I thought for sure that Illinois would come in with the “nobody believed in us” card and frothing at the chance to kick Cinderella to the curb.

Alas, the national media turned out to be correct on this one, although I firmly believe that it was because Illinois played its worst game of the season (outside of the aforementioned Penn State game) as opposed to Western Kentucky’s play (which was spotty other than two separate two-minute spurts where they couldn’t miss from the three-point arc). I thought that we would miss the presence of Chester Frazier to a certain extent, but the way that we were able to handle a run-and-gun Michigan team (another trendy pick at the beginning of the tournament that was able to win its first round game) a week prior to that on a neutral floor in the Big Ten Tournament gave me a bit more confidence that we could at least get through the first round without him. (I must say that Frazier turned into one of my favorite Illini players of all-time and wish that he could get a fifth year of eligibility.  He endured such unfair criticism and catcalls last season from the Assembly Hall home crowd when he was thrust into a role he should never have been in when the Eric Gordon situation went down, yet he didn’t complain and came right back to solidify himself as the heart and soul of this team this season.  By the end, Illini fans couldn’t imagine this team without his leadership and defensive intensity as he played through.  While Frazier will never be in the discussion as one the best Illinois players in history from a pure talent standpoint, he may very well be the toughest.)  Of course, this is why I write this blog for free as opposed to being paid as a coach that supposedly knows what the hell he is talking about. After I was ready to swear off the team when it was down 17 points with four minutes left to go, Illinois charged back to within a possession provide me with some thoughts that this could be another 2005-like comeback that would live on in Illini history. However, it was the old “too little, too late” story, where the Hilltoppers hung on to win a sloppy game. As most others in the bar where I was watching the game were merrily finishing up their drinks and wings after a marathon opening day of the NCAA Tournament, TK, the other Illini fans in attendance, and I sat around wondering how this team could have come out so flat after talking about all week how they weren’t being respected.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that back in October, I didn’t think Illinois would even get a sniff of the NIT this season, much less the NCAA Tournament. So, logic should have put me and the rest of Illini Nation into the second set of fans this year, where we should have been just happy to be invited to the dance. However, while Illini fans were pretty realistic for the most part about the limitations of this year’s team, there’s a residual bad taste in the collective mouth for having ended the season on a downswing. At the same time, I’m not sure if there’s any fan base in the country that has a dying need to win the National Championship more than us. Illinois is almost always at or near the top of discussions of “the best programs that have never won the National Championship”, which is a dubious distinction that we want erased as soon as possible. We came about as close as you can get to the pinnacle without having actually reached it in 2005, so every entry in the NCAA Tournament that doesn’t end up at that pinnacle is another opportunity lost.

Still, the beauty of college sports is that players don’t get signed to 10-year $200 million contracts unless they attend Florida State or UConn. New blood turns into new hope, where Bruce Weber appears to have reversed his prior recruiting issues and secured elite classes for the next couple of years. At the same time, current sophomores Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, and Mike Tisdale showed a great deal of improvement this season and will all be returning, and hopefully Alex Legion will be able to live up to his hype once he’s able to spend a full season with the team.  All of this means that expectations in Champaign are going to be ramped up more than ever when Midnight Madness comes around in October, which in turn leads to even greater scrutiny next March. We just ask that there will be one year in our lifetimes where we actually get to celebrate on the first Monday in April.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)


I apologize for the brief hiatus since I had to travel to London for work last week.  While this might sound glamorous on paper (and certainly compared to my first job out of law school where I was sent to exotic locales such as Danville and Flint, it’s a significant step-up), I didn’t have time to do any sort of sightseeing because I was working over 13 hours a day (which would have killed me if it wasn’t for the fact that I had visited all of the major touristy items in London on a previous occasion).  Of course, the one thing about much of Europe is that they pay as much attention to American news as their own news, which is root of their insistence that we aren’t worldly since we don’t reciprocate.  The fantastic Rod Blagojevich story was front-page news in the London tabloids and at the top of the hour on the BBC all week long with the tie to Barack Obama’s Senate seat (everyone over there LOVES our President-elect, if you hadn’t figured that out already – he’s seriously just behind The Beatles in the U.K. exultation power rankings).  Also, thanks to Sky Sports 2 (the Deuce!), I was able to watch the start of the Bears-Saints game at 1 a.m.London time last Thursday evening/Friday morning (Minneapolis Red Sox aptly pointed out that the British have greater access to NFL Network games than Americans) prior to falling asleep.  Interestingly enough, former Bear Shaun Gayle provides studio commentary for NFL games in the U.K. – apparently, there is enough of a cult following for American football (along with the presence of ex-pats) over there that the NFL gets pretty good coverage.  (It’s better than, say, coverage of the English Premier League over here.  Speaking of which, my only disappointment from the trip was that my work schedule prevented me from seeing Chelsea play a Champions League game in the middle of the week, knowing full well that Chelsea fans brought soccer hooliganism to new heights during the 1980s.)  As far as British television was concerned, it felt as if though I never left Chicago.

Anyway, I fell asleep in the middle of the second quarter of the Bears game and when I woke up the next morning, I got to embark on a parents-from-Home-Alone-esque path to get home to Chicago.  When I arrived at the airport, I found out that my Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to O’Hare was canceled due to “technical problems” (AKA the company wanted to consolidate a couple of less-than-full trans-Atlantic flights to save some money), which meant that I would need to have a stop-over in the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell (AKA Dulles Airport outside of Washington, DC, which is not to be confused with the Airport Taxi Line to Hell at Las Vegas International) to transfer to a United flight to Chicago.  (Note that while I’m a cost-conscious consumer in general, I will ALWAYS pay for a direct flight when it’s my own money- I don’t have any tolerance for that transfer bullshit.  When it’s a company-paid flight on an expense account, as in this case, a direct flight is my God-given fucking right.  My indignation at Virgin Atlantic’s callousness in trying to tell me that having a transfer would “only” result in me getting home a couple of hours later than expected was only tempered by the fact that any rash action would likely be characterized as an “international incident”.)  At that point, I was in “whatever” mode and simply relieved that I wouldn’t be stranded overseas.

After having a pretty productive flight from a personal enrichment perspective (I finished up Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “Outliers”, who also currently has a great piece in the New Yorker comparing the difficulties in evaluating who will become successful NFL quarterbacks and schoolteachers, and watched both “Wall-E” and “Tropic Thunder” for the first time – all are highly recommended), I arrived at the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell.  Since I was coming off of an international flight, I got to go through the glorious process of having to sit in line at customs, exit the secured area, pick up my luggage, check-in to my connecting flight and drop off my luggage, and then enter through the security checkpoint again.  Luckily, I had a whole twenty minutes to do all of this before my flight back to Chicago left.  As I sprinted across the corridors of the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell and got to the front of the security line, the lovely TSA guard (AKA a Jawa without a brown robe) informed me with almost a certain sense of glee that my flight had been selected for provisional screening.  So, as my connecting flight was making a last call for boarding, I got to be pulled off to the side to patted down and have my bags thoroughly checked.  (I very politely informed another TSA guard who was a complete dead-ringer for Scott Van Pelt that I completely understood that this was a “necessary procedure” and just wanted him to be aware that my flight was about to leave.  He checked my ticket and responded, “Oooh.  I guess you’re right.  I guess we’ll try our best to do this quickly so that you can possibly make your flight.”  Mr. Van Pelt then proceeded to sit down in his chair for another five minutes before he realized that there were no other guards available and finally decided to start checking my bags.  My indignation was only tempered by the fact that any rash action would likely be characterized as a “domestic incident”.)  After finally getting through security, I would have run to my terminal, but the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell is set up where you need to take a “bus” (AKA double-wide with a couple of wheels attached) between terminals.  Fortunately, I was able to jump onto a double-wide as it was leaving.  As you can see, this traveling day to end all traveling days, so it figured that when I finally arrived to Terminal D, I realized that my gate was the VERY LAST FUCKING ONE AT THE END – and this was a LONG FUCKING TERMINAL.  I did my best Usain Bolt impression while weighed down by a full laptop bag and literally ran as fast I could to reach my gate.  Amazingly, the plane was still there and I was able to get on.  Unfortunately, a number of my passenger-mates from London didn’t make it and, to my knowledge, no one has heard from them again.

In the only smooth part of the day (and at which point, I was pushing close to being awake for 24 hours straight), my flight from the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell to O’Hare landed almost 45 minutes early.  The traveling gods had to throw in one last “we’re completely fucking with you today”, though, as I gave all of that early landing time back and then some waiting for my luggage to arrive… which never came.  It was, of course, still sitting at the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell along with everyone else’s luggage from the original London flight.  At that point, it was just meant to be.  I got back to my house over 8 hours after I was scheduled to get home (with my luggage arriving the next morning).

The moral of the story: take a boat the next time that you go to England.

Thank you all for allowing me to vent – here are this week’s picks (home teams in CAPS where applicable):


(1) EagleBank Bowl:  Navy Midshipmen (+3) over Wake Forest Demon Demons

(2) Las Vegas Bowl:  BYU Cougars (+3) over Arizona Wildcats

(3) Hawaii Bowl:   Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-1.5) over Hawaii Warriors

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Illini Games for the Season: 5-6
Overall Season: 19-22-1


(1) Atlanta Falcons (+3.5) over MINNESOTA VIKINGS

(2) Carolina Panthers (+3) over NEW YORK GIANTS

(3) CHICAGO BEARS (-4) over Green Bay Packers

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Bears Games for the Season: 3-81
Overall Season: 18-18-3

Alright, so the NFL picks this week just happen to align with exactly what the Bears need in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.  It honestly wasn’t planned that way – I just thought they were pretty reasonable spreads.  (In the case of the Panthers-Giants game, if the Giants lose, then they would go into Minnesota in Week 17 needing to win just get any type of home game in playoffs, but if they win this week, then they lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and likely would sit everyone against the Vikings.  As a result, Bears fans need to root for Carolina all the way this weekend.)

Also, it’s very unfortunate that I won’t be able to spend the day after Christmas checking out the Illini in the Motor City Bowl (instead, it’s a whopper of a game with Central Michigan vs. Florida Atlantic).  Still, there’s a return of a holiday tradition that used to rank right up there with the Lions ruining the Thanksgivings of everyone in Detroit:  Bulls basketball!  That’s right – it’s a Rose vs. Beasley matchup next Friday night.  It makes me reminisce of the golden days around Christmas:

I can’t help you if you’re not pumped up after watching that.  My BCS bowl and NFL week 17 picks) will come at some point next week.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

(Image from Study Languages)